Extraction and chemical characterization of humic acid from nitric acid treated lignite and bituminous coal samples

Noureen Fatima, Asif Jamal, Zaixing Huang, Rabia Liaquat, Bashir Ahamad, Rizwan Haider, Muhammad Ishtiaq Ali, Tayyba Shoukat, Zeid A. Alothman, Mohamed Ouladsmane, Tariq Ali, Shafqat Ali, Naseem Akhtar, Mika Sillanpää

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


Currently, conversion of coal into alternative fuel and non-fuel valuable products is in demand and growing interest. In the present study, humic acid was extracted from two different ranks of coal, i.e., low rank and high rank (lignite and bituminous), through chemical pretreatment by nitric acid. Samples of lignite and bituminous coal were subjected to nitric acid oxidation followed by extraction using KOH and NaOH gravimetric technique. The chemical pretreatment of both types of coal led to enhanced yield of humic acid from 21.15% to 57.8% for lignite low-rank coal and 11.6% to 49.6% bituminous high rank coal. The derived humic acid from native coal and nitric acid treated coal was analyzed using elemental analysis, E4/E6 ratio of absorbance at 465 nm and 665 nm using UV-Visible spectrophotometry and Fourier transformed infrared spectroscopy FTIR. The chemical characteristics of coal treated with nitric acid have shown increased molecular weight and improved aromaticity with more oxygen and nitrogen and lower C, H, and sulphur content. The E4/E6 ratio of nitric acid-treated low and high ranks of coal were high. The FTIR spectroscopic data of nitric acid-treated lignite coal indicates an intensive peak of carboxyl group at 2981.84 cm, while bituminous coal was shown in cooperation of N-H group at 2923.04 cm. SEM was performed to detect the morphological changes that happen after producing humic acid from HNO3 treatment and native coal. The humic acid produced from HNO3 treated coal had shown clear morphological changes and some deformations on the surface. SEM-EDS detected the major elements, such as nitrogen, in treated humic acid that were absent in raw coal humic acid. Hence, the produced humic acid through HNO3 oxidation showed a more significant number of humic materials with improved efficiency as compared to native coal. This obtained humic acid can be made bioactive for agriculture purposes, i.e., for soil enrichment and improvement in growth conditions of plants and development of green energy solution.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8969
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 2 Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Bituminous coal
  • Lignite coal
  • Nitric acid
  • Pretreatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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